Anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice

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Anti-Semitism in"The Merchant of Venice" Anti-Semitism in "The Merchant of Venice" Throughout the play, "The Merchant of Venice" William Shakespeare portrays anti-Semitism through many of his characters. Audiences today may interpret the play to be offensive, where as people of Shakespeare’s time would have accepted the play as part of everyday life. The majority of London’s population at the time was anti-Semitic because there were very few Jews living there. Shakespeare’s "The Merchant of Venice" supports anti-Semitism actions and thoughts and therefore it is an anti- Semitic play. Anti- Semitism is demonstrated very strongly through the character of Antonio. It is clear that Antonio is prejudice towards Jews. Shylock confronts Antonio for spitting on his gabardine, calling him a ‘dog’, and scolding him in the Rialto about his moneys. Antonio replies with, "I am like to call thee so again, To spet on thee again, to spurn thee, too"(1.3.140-141). Antonio does not deny his actions and instead of apologizing he says he will do them again. He does not hold back his feelings for Shylock and in a broad sense his feelings toward Jews. In the second act, Launcelot is debating whether or not he should seek a new employer. His problem is that he works for Shylock, who is Jewish. Launcelot thinks to himself, "Certainly the Jew is the very devil incarnation" (2.2.24). Eventually, he decides to run away from Shylock rather than continue working for a Jew. He then presents the argument, "I am a Jew if I serve the Jew any longer" (2.2.104) to his father. Before accepting the new job, Antonio discusses the matter with his father and reminds himself that Bassanio is much poorer than Shylock, but that he would much rather work for a Christian than a Jew. Lorenzo harshly insults Shylock when he tells Jessica that if her father ever makes it to heaven, it is only because Jessica converted to Christianity and that is portrayed through the line, "If e’er the Jew her father come to heaven, It will be for his gentle daughter’s sake" (2.4.36-7). Lorenzo describes Jessica using the word gentle. The word gentle in Shakespeare’s time can also be pronounced gentile which means against Judaism. In this quote and later on in the play through the line, "Our house is hell, and the, a merry devil"(2.3.2-3), Shakespeare is informing the reader that Jessica dislikes her father and that the house she has lived in with him is hell.

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